Venezuela, Colombia to Discuss Possible Orinoco Oil Projects

PUNTO FIJO (Dow Jones Newswires), July 11, 2008

Venezuela and Colombia are set to discuss possible joint development projects in the oil rich Orinoco belt when the presidents of both countries meet Friday, the Colombian ambassador to Venezuela, Fernando Marin, said.

"The Venezuelan government has told us that it's important for them to have Colombian presence in the Orinoco belt. It's something that we're eager to talk about," Marin told Dow Jones Newswires. He said Javier Gutierrez, the president of Colombian state-oil company Ecopetrol SA (ECOPETROL.BO), will meet with representatives of Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA, to discuss possible joint projects.

"Being there (in the Orinoco belt) for Colombia is strategically important," Marin said. Colombia suffers from dwindling oil reserves and Ecopetrol has been examining plans for international expansion for some time, he added.

Allowing for Colombia's presence in the Orinoco belt would be a surprising gesture by Venezuela, given the recent diplomatic disputes between both countries, which escalated to threats of war in March. Chavez has threatened on several occasions to shut imports from Colombia.

Another item in the presidents' agenda is building a railway between the two nations that could help boost trade, which in 2007 reached $5.2 billion.

The teams of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, will also address import quotas on Colombian cars imposed earlier this year by Venezuela, Marin said. The restrictions have hurt car manufacturers in Venezuela, leading to layoffs.

Uribe is expected to arrive at a refinery complex in western Venezuela around noon Friday to meet with Chavez, their first bilateral meeting after months of diplomatic disputes. They've scheduled a joint press conference for Friday afternoon.

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